Valdosta dropped the regular season finale against Lee 41-7. As they prepare for playoffs on Nov. 27, here are six takeaways:
After the loss, Valdosta head coach Rush Propst said the poor officiating was not the reason for the Wildcat’s defeat.
He wasn’t wrong, but Lee was able to get away with a lot of behaviors that seemed to unilaterally help the Trojans.
Like slapping a player while standing a few feet from an official and the player not being tossed from the game.
Or a head coach chastising an opposing player down the sideline and soliciting an unsportsmanlike penalty against the player.
Or repeatedly hitting the quarterback late but only being penalized for it once.
Don’t get it wrong, the officials penalized the Trojans more than the Wildcats, but by the time they began making consistent calls, the game was way out of balance.
BACK TO SQUARE ONE?
Valdosta has scored 81 combined points in its three previous games. Against Lee, they only scored a touchdown and it didn’t even come on offense.
After the Houston County game, it looked like the Wildcats found their groove. After watching them against Lee, that was just smoke and mirrors.
The offense has a lot to clean up. There were dropped passes, two fumbles by the quarterback, and the offensive line was bullied most of the night.
The most concerning takeaway is the lack of ability to run the football. The Wildcats weren’t able to move the football on the ground all night and it cost the rest of the offense.
CHINK IN THE ARMOR
The offense wasn’t the only side that reverted to old habits. For the first time since facing Lowndes in the Winnersville Classic, the defense looked mortal.
They showed that they’re susceptible to being beat by big plays.
Three out of four of Lee’s offensive touchdowns were plays that went 40 or more yards. Two of them went for more than 80.
Lee had the potential to score more points, but had a poor throw to a receiver that was all alone behind the defense.
The good news is that they’ve faced the best teams that they’ll face for the remainder of the season.
In the playoffs, expect the intensity of the Wildcats to increase.
I’ve held my tongue on this subject for a few weeks.
During the game, fans could be heard calling for Joshua Crawford—the former offensive coordinator for the Wildcats.
It was so audible that I overheard two players discussing whether Crawford would’ve had a better showing against the Trojans during the game.
What’s the point?
Keep those remarks for the Facebook comments and other social media rants –– for the group chat discussions and the front porch conversations.
It’s not helping the players.
Even at home games, it seems like some fans just come to root against the Wildcats.
During the Northside game, the public address announcer asked fans to cheer because it was third down.
The stadium let out a soft roar.
It was quiet to the point where Coach Propst glanced over his shoulder as if he was wondering how many fans were in attendance.
One of the largest high school stadiums in the state is near-empty on a week-to-week basis.
I understand we’re in the middle of a pandemic and have respect for those who stay home for safety precautions.
But for those in attendance, don’t root for the downfall of the hardworking players to spite one man.
BROTHERS IN ARMS
That’s what Amari Jones said after standing and watching the Trojans celebrate the region championship; after the Wildcats lost in that fashion; after hearing Lee’s announcer countdown from 10 and egg on the Trojans as they celebrated Dean Fabrizio’s 100th win.
Jones didn’t have his best game against Lee. The constant blitzing by the Trojans left him taking several hits during and after plays.
But what won’t show up on the box sheet or the scoreboard is the heart Jones showed.
There was a play in the first quarter where Jones found himself in open field with the option to either get out of bounds or slide short of the first down.
Instead, he plowed through a Lee defender to pick up the first down.
It was the energy play that the Wildcats needed while trailing by a lot.
“I tried to spark the team,” Jones said after the game. “Just giving my all for these guys because they give their all for me. It’s nothing to sacrifice my body for this team. I love these guy with all my heart. Like my blood brothers.”
Jones has improved with each week and as playoffs begins they’ll need him to be at his best.
He and the team have fixed themselves on the main goal and will continue to fight towards it.
JOB’S NOT DONE
The loss to Lee was the worst defeat of the season.
There’s no other way to cut it.
With the way they lost, the region championship that was taken away, and the playoff seeding that they fell to, there wasn’t a lot of good to say about the game.
The team is still focused on its bigger goal though –– a state championship.
In the waning moments of the game, several players made remarks along the lines of the team would still be okay and they still needed to focus on their goals.
Even Propst spoke about the tougher road that they’d have to take, but still believes that they can make a run.
It’s going to take the best version of the Wildcats to do it.
Juston Lewis is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.